Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry is playing defense for the president of this year’s United Nations (UN) climate confab after he contended that there is “no science” behind calls for a fossil fuel phase-out, Politico reported Monday.

Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the president of the summit, known as COP28, made the remarks in question during a teleconference on Nov. 21, saying that there is “no science” to justify a global fossil fuel phase-out, and that there is no way to eliminate fossil fuels globally while advancing economic development “unless you want to take the world back into caves.” Kerry asserted that Al Jaber’s comments may need “clarification,” or that “maybe it just came out wrong,” according to Politico.

“Look, he’s gotta decide how he wants to phrase it, but the bottom line is this COP needs to be committed to phasing out all unabated fossil fuel,” Kerry told Politico.

Al Jaber, for his part, has asserted that his remarks were “misrepresented,” according to The Guardian. Regarding the original story reporting Al Jaber’s comments, a representative for COP28 told the Daily Caller News Foundation on Sunday that “we are not sure what this story was supposedly revealing” and that “nothing in it is new or breaking news” while suggesting that media coverage of the comments intends to undermine the conference’s goals.

“I’m not in any way signing up to any discussion that is alarmist. There is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says that the phase-out of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5 (degrees Celsius)” or less of global warming, Al Jaber said in the Nov. 21 virtual event, according to The Guardian. “Please help me, show me the roadmap for a phase-out of fossil fuel that will allow for sustainable socioeconomic development, unless you want to take the world back into caves,” he said to Mary Robinson, the chair of the Elders group and a former UN special envoy for climate change, during the event.

Prior to the disclosure of his comments, Al Jaber’s presidency had already generated controversy, as he runs the Emirati state-owned renewable firm and the state-owned oil and gas giant. Leaked documents showed that Emirati officials planned to use COP28-related meetings to discuss business related to the two firms with foreign diplomats, and separate documents revealed how the companies considered Kerry as a key reputation-builder in efforts to secure their future financial success.

Despite Al Jaber’s comments and the appearances of potential conflicts of interest, the conference he is overseeing has resulted in several major developments. For example, many of the world’s developed countries, including the U.S., pledged hundreds of millions of dollars combined to a de facto global “climate reparations” fund, and American officials approved a new set of methane regulations that could severely impact the domestic oil and gas industry.

Neither Kerry’s office nor representatives of the UN responded immediately to requests for comment.

Nick Pope on December 4, 2023

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